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Raiffeisen Bank International (RBI) is struggling to quit its highly profitable business in Russia

Autor: Article based upon analysis from Reuters Breakingviews
2 min

Raiffeisen Bank International is facing a big dilemma when thinking about how to get out of Russia. Other European banks had similar problems last year.

But none of them made two-thirds of their profits from Russian companies or households last year, as the Austrian lender did.

Faced with two unattractive options, Raiffeisen might be better off writing off the unit. That would then atone for years of pointless expansion in Russia.

The first option would be to spin off the division, in which Raiffeisen has a book value of 4.1 billion euros. The lender’s current shareholders would have the dubious advantage of owning a Vienna-listed bank focused on Russia.

If Raiffeisen were to distribute all the shares in the Russian division to existing investors, the Austrian regional banks, which hold 59 percent of Raiffeisen Bank International, would lose out.

The new entity would be listed, if only to allow some Raiffeisen shareholders uncomfortable with the Russia exposure to sell their shares.

According to some analysts, it could end up trading at 20% of book value, or about 820 million euros. Worse, the Vienna-listed, Russia-focused bank would have to operate without incurring the wrath of European Union and U.S. governments and regulators.

Raiffeisen is not currently affected by Western sanctions, but the Russian pure player would live under the constant threat of being put on the list.

The second option – selling the division at a knockdown price – would deal a blow to Raiffeisen. Under Moscow’s ever-changing laws, President Vladimir Putin would have to approve the sale.

The valuation would be done by the Russian side, with Moscow applying a 50% discount. Starting from 20% of the generous book value of 4.1 billion euros, a Russian or perhaps Chinese buyer could acquire the bank for a theoretical price of 400 million euros. And Raiffeisen would then have trouble recovering even these meagre proceeds.

Both scenarios mean that Raiffeisen would sink for a few more years in the existential trouble of Russia enthusiasm. A better option would be to write down the value of the entire unit and move on.

According to the Austrian group, severing ties with Russian assets would reduce its core capital ratio from 16% to a still comfortable 13.7%.

Raiffeisen’s assets in Russia have risen more than 50% since 2014, the year Putin invaded eastern Ukraine and annexed Crimea. A large and final write-down would be the price to pay for having so carelessly ignored the signs of the times.